Trying to save Saeed

To free a Boise pastor from an Iranian prison, U.S., others must apply pressure, experts say

kmoeller@idahostatesman.comApril 26, 2013 


    A community fundraising walk / ride is planned for 9 a.m. Saturday in Nampa. It will benefit the family of Saeed Abedini, who remains in an Iranian prison. All are welcome to participate.

    The Save Saeed Community Benefit Ride / Walk is 4.4 miles on the greenbelt.

    The race / walk will begin in the dental plaza parking lot at 349 W. Iowa Ave. (12th and Iowa). Those who didn't register in time to get a T-shirt are encouraged to participate, donate or both to show support.

    More info: Call Annette, 503-669-6693

Saeed Abedini is in a battle for his life.

The 32-year-old has languished in Iran's notorious Evin Prison for more than 200 days, after being convicted of "threatening the national security of Iran" for his involvement in Christian home churches from 2000 to 2005.

His parents are allowed to visit him weekly, and they say he's enduring beatings and other torture. He has suffered internal bleeding and needs medical treatment, according to the American Center for Law & Justice.

Tiffany N. Barrans, international legal director for the nonprofit advocacy center, said it has petitioned to have the Red Cross come in as a third party to treat him.

"That has not been granted by the Iranian authorities," Barrans said.

Saeed, a Boise resident with his wife and two children since 2006, was in Iran doing humanitarian work when he was imprisoned in September. In January, he wassentenced to eight years in prison.

Saeed has told authorities that if he is freed, he will leave Iran and never return, Barrans said. They were not moved.

As hopeless as the situation appears, Barrans said there's reason to be optimistic about his release. A decision on Saeed's appeal is pending.

"It gives the Iranian government an out, to save face," Barrans said of the possibility that his sentence will be overturned. "They want to look like a country that is following the rule of law."

There's a sense of urgency in getting Saeed released before Iran's elections in June.

"During and around those elections, the Iranian government is not going to want to release anyone who is seen as oppositional," Barrans said.

Barrans said the key to Saeed's safe release is pressure from other countries - particularly those that have ties to Iran, including Qatar, Italy, Argentina and Brazil. The American Center for Law & Justice is seeking support from those nations, and the group hopes the U.S. State Department is doing the same behind the scenes.

One positive new development, Barrans said, is that human rights groups within Iran haven taken up Saeed's cause.

"If there is enough stir in Iran - in their media and social media - it may cause unrest," Barrans said. "They may decide it's not worth the unrest during their elections, if this one man's case could disrupt that peace."


More than half a million people have signed an online petition calling for Saeed's release.

Friends at his church in Boise are doing what they can to help.

"We have a constant flow of letters going to Iran, so they know he's not forgotten," said Rhett Allen, assistant director of children's ministry at Boise's Calvary Chapel.

Some of those letters have been written by children from the church, he said. The church is selling neon yellow "Save Saeed" T-shirts for $20 at its bookstore, Red Letter Books & Cafe on Franklin Road, just west of Cole Road.

"We're exercising every resource that we have," Allen said. "We serve a good God, and we know he can do miracles."

Saeed's wife, Naghmeh, is doing a lot of public speaking, hoping to keep her husband's plight in the public eye.

A regular on Fox News, she tries to limit travel outside the state to just once a month so that she's not away from the couple's two children, ages 6 and 5.

"I was in Twin Falls last weekend," she said, grateful for an outpouring of support from churches, community members and state legislators who attended.

She'll be in Nampa this weekend, where Annette Welburn organized a charity run/walk. The Nampa mother of four doesn't know the Abedinis, but she's praying for them.

"The goal is to let the Abedini family know beyond the shadow of a doubt that the people of the Treasure Valley care about them," Welburn said.

Welburn said many of the first 200 to sign up for the 4.4-mile event on the Greenbelt are fellow members of Lakeview Bible Church in Nampa.

Naghmeh said most of the money raised on her family's behalf has gone to others who need it more. She said she's sent it to a group of Christian families - associated with her husband - who fled from Iran to Turkey.

"I feel responsible for them," she said.


Naghmeh (Panahi) Abedini, 36, was born in Iran but grew up in the Treasure Valley.

Her family fled during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. Today, her father runs a user-interface manufacturing company called PKG User Interface Solutions in Meridian. Her uncle is the owner/operator of Whitewater Pizza on Eagle Road.

Naghmeh graduated from Centennial High School in 1995 and earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Puget Sound, with an eye toward going to medical school.

Through Calvary Chapel, she did some missionary work in her 20s, including a trip to India, and felt God calling her to do the same in her native Iran.

Her parents were in disbelief at her decision.

"They felt I was going backward: 'We brought you here so you could flourish as a woman and be a doctor,' " she recalled.

She comes from a well-educated, high-achieving family - her twin brother earned a doctorate in quantum physics from the University of Chicago.

Naghmeh went to Iran in late 2001 and met Saeed at a Christian gathering in 2002. They had a Christian wedding in Iran in 2004.

Persecution of Christians intensified after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president, and they decided in 2005 that it was time to move to Idaho. Naghmeh was pregnant with their first child.

The couple live at Naghmeh's parents' house in West Boise. An ordained pastor, Saeed participated in Christian ministry in Iran via Skype.

In 2009, Saeed and his family visited Iran. He was detained at the airport on their way home. He was interrogated every day for two months about his activities with the home churches.

Iranian officials warned him to stop his involvement with the home churches, but they said he could do nonreligious humanitarian work and continue to travel back and forth between Iran and the U.S., Naghmeh said.

From 2009 to 2012, Naghmeh said, Saeed complied with the Iranian government's demands. Last summer, he was in Iran to build an orphanage on family land in the city of Rasht near the Caspian Sea.

"It was a big surprise when he was arrested," Naghmeh said.


Until he was imprisoned, Saeed was able to talk to his wife and children via Skype and telephone.

Naghmeh said her first instinct was to go to Iran to be there for her husband. Officials warned her in-laws against that.

"They said, 'If she sets foot in this airport, she's going straight to prison,' " Naghmeh said.

That's because she's a Muslim who converted to Christianity and was involved in Christian house churches in Iran with her husband years ago, she said.

Katy Moeller: 377-6413

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